Thursday, April 30, 2015

Intimate Holy Spirit

teacher guiding the hand of a student
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." John 14:18

One of the saddest things in the world is kids who don't belong to anyone—orphans. It's hard for me to even imagine being in such a place because my parents have been so foundational to the person I have become.

Here Jesus taps into the language of family and other relationships to describe what the Holy Spirit, who will soon come, will be to His disciples. Let's look at the roles Jesus says the Holy Spirit will play in a disciple's life. He will be a:

1. Helper: "I will pray to the Father and He will give you another Helper…"- John 14:16.  [Helper  is parakletos and means 'beside' and 'to call' = called to one's side. The word signifies an intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate counselor. … In non-biblical literature parakletos had the technical meaning of an attorney who appears in court in another's behalf. The Holy Spirit … gives the strength to endure the hostility of the world system" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.]
2. Roommate / Housemate: "He dwells with you..."
3. Tenant of the spirit: "…and will be in you" - John 14:17; 23
4. Parent: "I will not leave you orphans" - John 14:18.
5. Lover who shows His love: "And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" - John 14:21. [Manifest - emphanidzo 1718 - to cause to shine… to appear to come to view, reveal, exhibit, make visible, present oneself to the sight of another" - Op. Cit, p. 1470.]
6. Teacher: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit … will teach you all things…"
7. Prompter: "… and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" - John 14:26.

Of course the Holy Spirit doesn't barge into our lives but moves in on our invitation, increasingly taking over our life's house and our very personality and character only with our cooperation—that is, our obedience - John 14:15, 21, 23-24.

I challenge myself, and you, to be on the lookout today for instances where the Holy Spirit is these things to us. Perhaps a good project would be to make note of what we discover in a journal.


PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for coming to me in these various ways. Please open my eyes to clearly recognize what You do and who You are in my life.  Amen

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God's pruning shears

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 5:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes did it bring forth wild grapes?" Isaiah 5:4


The vines were loaded with tomatoes. It looked like a bumper crop. Then one day I noticed a subtle blush of brown on one of the green tomatoes. It started where the fruit joined the stem.

I watched in dismay as day by day, it expanded. Soon I noticed similar spots on more tomatoes. They were rotting before my very eyes! Even picking the green unblemished ones in hopes they would ripen without first turning brown didn't help. I never grew tomatoes in that blight-infested spot of the garden again.

If you've done any gardening, you may well have experienced something similar. And you will understand the disappointment in the voice of the gardener, singing the Vineyard Song of Isaiah 5.

In it, Isaiah describes how the farmer has lovingly tended his vineyard. But instead of the harvest he expects, the pampered plot yields only small bitter wild grapes. He is so exasperated, he has decided to take away its protection, stop weeding and cultivating it, and send no more rain. In other words, he will abandon it.

The vineyard is, of course, a picture or metaphor for Israel and Judah. God, fed up with their bad fruit, has decided to leave them to their own devices.

We can apply the message of this poignant poem to our lives too. We also are God's plants, which He needs to do stuff to to make fruitful.

I am fine with Him putting His hedge of protection around me— I like it that nothing can touch me without His permission. Similarly I like the rain He sends, and the weeds He pulls out. But the pruning...

Pruning hurts. In horticulture it involves cutting off extra stems so that more energy can go into the fruit-producing branches. In the spiritual realm, pruning may involve having a person in my life who brings out the worst in me so I see the carnal nature within myself that I need to deal with. It may mean a source of income dries up so I'm forced to expend my energies elsewhere. It may mean delaying the pursuit of dreams while I do my duty.

Pruning often seems harsh and random. But Isaiah 5 reminds us how intentional and purposeful is God's tending of us. His goal is never to hurt us in a sadistic way, but to hurt us so we will be successful and fruitful in His kingdom.

PRAYER: Dear God, how dreadful is the thought that I could resist Your pruning to the point that You would abandon me to my own ways. Help me to cooperate with Your pruning in my life. Amen

MORE: Curious about how to prune?

- Here's an article on how to prune a grape vine.

- an article on how to prune tomatoes.

- an article on how to prune roses.

Can you find more lessons about spiritual pruning from these examples of plant pruning?

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuned in and obedient

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 8:26-40

TO CHEW ON: "Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, 'Arise and go toward the south which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' This is desert.' Acts 8:26

"Put a sack of flour over your shoulder and walk down the road."

That's the instruction John Joshua Matteson heard one day. John, a serious, hard-working young man was not one to give in to imagination or impulse. Yet God's order was unmistakable.

John tried to rationalize it away. The idea was outlandish. He would look foolish going down the road with a sack of four. The family didn't have extra food.

Yet he had grown up in a Methodist home that taught and lived the importance of obeying God. His mother had been a missionary and was a committed abolitionist. His father had told him many mission field stories too.

John's conflict that day ended with partial obedience. He walked down the road, but without the flour sack on his shoulders. Steven Stiles continues the telling of this true story about his grandfather:

"John walked a good distance along the dirt road near Stockton, California. He was still pondering why he should ever have been carrying flour, when he was approached by a horse and wagon occupied by an exhausted and disheveled family. A conversation ensued. 'We are hungry,' the family finally told him. 'We have enough to cook a meal, but no flour. We have been praying, and God told us he would bring us a bag of flour. We were so excited to see you approaching in the distance, and we really thought you were they man God told us about'" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 295.

I can't say that I have ever heard God's audible instructions like Philip or John did. But I have known His gentle pressure, calling me to focus on activities with eternal values while allowing the temporary to atrophy, edging me away from one task to another. I understand John's struggle, to a point at least. It is always a matter of paying attention with the ears of faith, and obedience.

What an example of ready, unarguing obedience Philip gives us. No objections about why going off to the desert is a bad idea and how foolish he'll look. No rationalization that he has better things to do with his time. He just goes and we have this wonderful miracle-encounter story of a seeker, finding Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be tuned in to Your frequency of living life so that I will hear Your instructions and have the faith to carry them out.

MORE: The rest of the story.

John went home that day and faced his failure to believe. Sometime later he felt the need to share this incident at church. Quoting Stiles again:

"When he was finished sharing his story about the sack of flour, a visitor, sitting with his wife and children spoke up:
'We were that family! We were the ones who talked to you! Let me tell you what happened. After we left you, we traveled up the road and met a farmer. When we had talked with him for a while, the farmer looked at us and volunteered that we looked like we could use a sack of flour, and he went and brought us one.'


Whatever John learned form that battle of faith was due not to his tenacity, but to a merciful God who turns our failure into purpose. What we learn from our own experiences of faith, especially miracles, is often just the same" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 296 (emphasis added).
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Diagnosis: bitter and bound

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 8:4-24

TO CHEW ON: “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great….And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power…” Acts 8:9, 18-19.

When the Samaritan sorcerer became a believer, the Samaritan Christians may have celebrated–as Christians often do when celebrities come to the Lord. The local papers may have been a tad more cynical: “Wizard Converts – what new trick is up his sleeve?” In his case, such skepticism would have been warranted. For as we read the whole story, we discover that all is not right with Simon’s attitude. He has an ulterior motive for following Jesus.

Though he is genuinely impressed with the signs and wonders the disciples perform and wants to be on the side of such power, he still has the mindset that this new religion is going to work wonders for business. Because when he sees the Holy Spirit coming on people in response to Peter and John laying hands on them, he comes with money and says, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Of course Peter will have none of that. With a word of knowledge he names the wellspring of Simon’s request: bitterness and the bondage to sin, and admonishes him to repent.

Sometimes I think we’re not that different from Simon. He was trying to manipulate God to achieve his own purposes. Don’t we often do the same? We ask for help in our work–not so He gets the glory, but so we do. Our prayers are full of requests designed to further our comfort, ease and well-being.

How can we know if our attitudes are wrong? And how can we deal with the roots of them? We need an outside perspective on our own heart-condition. Like the Holy Spirit revealed things about Simon to Peter, He can enlighten us by His word to our own poisons and bondages (Hebrews 4:12).

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me inner attitudes and motivations that displease You. Help me understand their origins so I can deal with them at their roots. Amen.

MORE: Peter pronounces Simon “bound by iniquity.”
“For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and a bond forged by iniquity to fetter souls” Acts 8:23 AMP

What is this ‘iniquity’?
[Iniquity: adikia – ad-ee-kee-ah: “Misdeeds, injustice, moral wrongdoing, unjust acts, unrighteousness, iniquity.”* (That sounds pretty bad!). “It is the opposite of truthfulness, faithfulness and rightness.” (Oh oh – that brings it closer to home; you mean even a little sneakiness, a shade of untruth can begin to forge a bondage?)
*From “Word Wealth” – The New Spirit Filled Life Bible.]

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The litmus test of true spirituality

"Jesus and the Woman at the Well" - Tresures of the Bible, Jesus' Ministry
"Jesus and the Woman at the Well" - John 4:5-26
Illustration from Treasures of the Bible - Jesus' Ministry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 4:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

In our time when it's fashionable to be "spiritual," it's more important than ever to "test the spirits" as John here tells us to do. The writer of my Bible's study notes on this passage elaborates:

"Believers are not to be so gullible that they indiscriminately accept pronouncements of all prophets who claim to be of God… A spirit is indeed behind every prophet…" - Peter E. Prosser, study notes on 1 John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1787.

John names the two types of spirits. The prophetic spirit that speaks from the Spirit of God he calls the "spirit of truth" (1 John 4:6), while a false spirit he calls the "spirit of Antichrist" and the "spirit of error" (1 John 4:3,6).

How can we tell which is which? John here also gives us a simple test. He says that spiritual truth is all tied up in Jesus and our reaction to Him. The true spirit, whose message source is the Spirit of God "… confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh…" - 1 John 4:2.

This is more than mere mental assent to the fact that a person named Jesus of Nazareth once lived and was a remarkable person.  More from the study notes:

"The crux of a test is a spirit's acknowledgement or rejection of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God. A confession of Jesus involves more than an admission of His identity (see Matthew 8:28,29; Mark 1:24; 3:11). It is a profession of faith in Him and submission to His sovereignty. … a confession proclaiming the truth that Jesus is the incarnate Christ is of God and testifies to both His full humanity as our Saviour-Redeemer and HIs full deity as Lord and Sovereign King - Ibid (emphasis added).

And so when missionaries come to our door, or when our friends talk to us of the usefulness of their spiritual practices, or we watch documentaries or read books on modern spirituality, we should be on the lookout for the answer to that test question: What do they say and believe about Jesus?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this test of spirituality and whether or not particular belief systems and practices are from You. Please sharpen my discernment. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

The supernatural good-news life

T

Paul and the Viper
Paul and the Viper*
ODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: " ' And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents, and if they will drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.' " Mark 16:17-18

What an incredible list of predictions Jesus makes here, of signs that will follow those who spread the gospel:

1. They will have power over the demonic realm (Mark 16:17).
Luke recounts an almost humorous incident showing the unique power that Jesus' followers have in this area. When some Jewish exorcists use the name of Jesus without the power of true faith in Him, the demon responds: "Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are you?" Then the possessed man beats up the exorcists - Acts 19:13-16.


2, They will have new powers of communication: " ' … speak with new tongues' " (Mark 16:17).
I understand this promise to involve more than only the glossolalia of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). It is that for sure, i.e. the power to communicate in languages not learned. But I believe it is also the tongue used in private prayer and self-edification (1 Corinthians 14:2,4, 14-16). And, I would submit, we could also make a case for the new tongue including the tongue of boldness, so evident in the early Christians (Acts 4:31).

3. They will have remarkable protection
(Mark 16:18).
The experience of Paul in the Island of Malta brings Jesus' words to life about protection from snakes (Acts 28:3-6). And to the protection stories from Acts we could add the testimony of Christians experiencing unusual protection through the centuries. In this department, I love the saying attributed to Henry Martyn: "I am immortal until God's work for me to do is done. The Lord reigns" (from Inspirational Quotes).

4. They will have unusual power
to heal (Mark 16:18).
This comes true for the Apostles in Acts as we see them perform numerous healings, sometimes even raising people from the dead (Acts 3:7-11; 5:12-16; 9:3-9, 32-35, 39-42; Acts 14:8-18; 16:18; 20:8-12; 28:8-9).

The question I ask myself is, do these signs still follow the spread of the gospel today? Are these things our experience? Some have developed a hermeneutic which says the signs and wonders seen in Acts were only for that time. However the words we read today are attributed to Jesus. The evangelical church doesn't take His command to " ' preach the gospel to every creature' " as only for the apostolic time. So why do we often wave off the signs that confirm the gospel as meant exclusively for an earlier age?


PRAYER: Dear Lord, please confirm Your reality, power and word with signs and wonders again. Amen.

MORE: Modern prayer for spiritual awakening

Bible teacher Beth Moore has written an impassioned "Intercessory Prayer for Awakening." Read it HERE.

The Feast of St. Mark Evangelist.

Today the church celebrates the Feast of Mark the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel of Mark and today's Bible reading.

This Collect begins the day's liturgy:

 Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

* Illustration of "Paul and the Viper"
Illustration from Volume 10 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published by Francis R. Niglutsch, New York, in 1910. Many of the original paintings were in color, but were published in this book in black and white.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Friday, April 24, 2015

One Shepherd

"Separating Sheep from Goats"
(Matthew 25:32) from
Treasures of the Bible

"Separating Sheep from Goats"  (Matthew 25:32) from Treasures of the Bible
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:17-31

TO CHEW ON: "I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My Servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd." Ezekiel 34:23


By Ezekiel's time David had been dead for hundreds of years. So what does Ezekiel mean here, speaking about God's servant David being their shepherd?

Bible students interpret "my servant David" non-literally to mean the promised Saviour or Messiah that would descend from David's line (2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Kings 2:45). It was a line God promised would never end (Psalm 89:3-4).

"This is clearly fulfilled in Jesus Christ" writes Roy Edmund Hayden in my Bible's notes on Ezekiel.

How wonderfully Jesus fulfills this prophecy. When we study His life, ministry, and teaching, we see that He is everything the irresponsible shepherds are not:
  • He is compassionate with the helpless - Matthew 9:35.
  • He is a seeking shepherd of both flocks—the Jews and Gentiles - Matthew 15:24; John 10:16.
  • He knows His sheep - John 10:14-15, 27; Matthew 25:32).
  • His sheep know Him and His voice - John 10:3,4, 5, 16, 27.
  • He provides for and protects them - John 10:9,28.
  • He lays down His life for them - John 10:17,18; Matthew 26:31.
  • He is their just judge - Matthew 25:32-46.

Those of us who believe in Jesus all these many centuries later are also part of His flock—a flock made up of peoples from all nations (Ezekiel 34:11-13; John 10:16) and added to over centuries.

Our pastors and leaders are His under-shepherds now (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:24).

And we look forward to a day when the beautiful scene Ezekiel paints, the peace and security (Ezekiel 34:25), the plenty (Ezekiel 34:26,27,29), and the freedom (Ezekiel 34:27,28) will be realized in real time (Revelation 7:16,17).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your shepherding of people over the centuries. Help me to hear Your voice and follow You through my life till the time I see You face to face. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leadership - it's not about me

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:1-166

TO CHEW ON: "Thus says the Lord God: 'Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock that they may no longer be food for them'" Ezekiel 34:10

Is God here ranting against the men that are out in the Judean hillsides watching their sheep — actual shepherds? No. This is a diatribe against leaders of people who had failed to do what leaders should do. Looking over verses 1-10 we can discover what some of those failings were:

1. They were concerned primarily about themselves and not the people they led (Ezekiel 34:2).

2. They acted out this self-interest by ravaging the flock. They used their underlings for their own ends (Ezekiel 34:3).

3. They took no responsibility for their flock's health or well-being. They didn't look after its sick or hurt members and didn't go after the ones who went wandering or got lost. The result was a scattered, weak, sickly flock, vulnerable to any danger that came along from weather to wild animals, to wandering (Ezekiel 34:4-6).

4. They were held accountable and lost their jobs (Ezekiel 34:7-10).

This is a good warning to take to heart for those of us who lead in any capacity (in our churches as pastors, teachers, or small group leaders, in society as presidents, committee heads or coaches, in our homes as parents and grandparents). When we turn God's four scolds of Israel's irresponsible leaders into positives, we have a template for our own leadership. Good leadership is:


1. Concerned primarily with the well-being of those who follow.

2. Untainted by motives of personal gain.

3. All about responsibility.
Of course the look of this will be different for the different kinds of shepherding we do. For the spiritual leader of people — say as a small group leader in church — it might involve making sure you have some good spiritual food prepared for your next meeting, listening to your people to discover their hurts and challenges, phoning the ones who are absent, visiting the sick ones in hospital, bringing meals to the home where Mom has just had a baby, getting other healthy members involved in the care of the flock so it doesn't all fall on your shoulders...

4. Expecting to be held accountable. How much better to hear His "Well done, good and faithful servant" than that you've lost your flock and your job because you weren't a good shepherd!


PRAYER: Dear God, please put within me the heart of a good leader/shepherd who thinks of others first before myself. Help me to demonstrate servant leadership whenever I lead. Amen.

MORE: Advice to leaders

Michael Hyatt,  a speaker and author who writes often about leadership this advice to his successor as  CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing in 2011 It is good advice to anyone who is a leader:

1. Your position is a role not your identity.


2. Your position is temporary not permanent.


3. Your position is a privilege not a right.


4. Your position is about faithfulness not achievement.


5. Your position is about them not you.


6. Your position is about stewardship not ownership.


7. Your position will require more than you can provide on your own.

Read all of "Advice to a New CEO (or to any Leader)" to see how he expands on each of these points.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Of shepherds and sheep

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 10:1-18

TO CHEW ON: 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep and am known by my own.'” John 10:11,14

I find few passages in the Bible more comforting than the shepherd and sheep ones. Of those, John 10 where Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd ranks right up there with Psalm 23. Let’s look at this first half of John 10 to see what we can discover about our divine shepherd.

1. Jesus, our shepherd, has a legitimate claim to us (John 10:1-3). The flock’s real shepherd doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold to get access to the sheep or convince them to follow him. They are his possession. He can come through the door and relate openly to then. As our spiritual shepherd, Jesus bought the rights to us when He died and paid our ransom. He is our rightful owner. Of course it’s up to us to decide if we want Him to shepherd us, or not.

2. A good shepherd knows his sheep intimately, inside and out, and by name (John 10:3-5). The sheep recognize his voice and trust him enough to follow. This is how well Jesus knows us. He is trustworthy and we can follow Him with confidence.

3. Jesus calls himself the door of the sheep (John 10:7-9) I remember years ago a Sunday School teacher telling how a shepherd would station himself at the door of the sheepfold, place his staff across the entry, and watch/count as each sheep bounded over his staff, into the fold. Describing himself as the door is Jesus’ picturesque way of telling us, we come to God through Him; there is no other way (John 14:6).

4. Jesus has good intentions toward His sheep (John 10:10. He said: 'I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly'[abundantly: perissos = superabundance, excessive, overflowing, surplus over and above, more than enough profuse, over the ordinary, more than sufficient].

5. Jesus is a good shepherd (John 10:11-15) He says that several times, and we get the message: there are bad shepherds. Just before Jesus launched into this teaching, he was talking to the Pharisees. He called them blind leaders (John 9:39-41). Here He describes bad shepherds as hirelings. They lead because it’s their paid job. But when things get tough, they scatter and leave the sheep defenseless. The intention of some false shepherds is to actually steal, kill and destroy the sheep. Jesus is not like that. He has gone to the extent of giving His life for His sheep.

6. The shepherd and sheep share a deep and lasting relationship (John 10:14-15).
“As the Father knew the Son and loved him, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them. As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed Him, so believers know Christ.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Zondervan, 1961, p. 1564.

Is Jesus your shepherd? Do you recognize His voice? Do you obey – knowing that His intentions toward you are only good. Spend some time today thinking of Jesus as your shepherd and what kind of a sheep you are.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to follow you as a sheep follows the shepherd he loves and trusts. Help me to be a good shepherd to the people who look to me for leadership. Amen.

MORE: The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Stuart Townend version)


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hated

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 3:11-24

TO CHEW ON: "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you." 1 John 3:13

There is within the DNA of the gospel, something that "the world" finds intrinsically offensive. I'm not sure if I can put my finger on it exactly but it seems to have something to do with:

  • Jesus' claims of uniqueness ("'I am the way the truth and the life.'" John 14:6) and Christianity's tone of certainty about Jesus as the only way to God ("Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12).
  • Jesus' certainty about the fate of anyone who doesn't believe in Him (" 'He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.' ” John 3:36)
  • God's authority versus our human dislike of anyone being the boss of us (Satan tapped into that when, in answer to Eve's objection to eating Eden's forbidden fruit, he contradicted God and said " 'You shall not surely die' " - Genesis 3:4,5)
  • The way the gospel cancels out our human efforts to save ourselves ("But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away" - Isaiah 64:6).

Though western societies have long tolerated, even upheld Christian beliefs, a new definition of "tolerance" is chilling the atmosphere toward Christians. Increasingly attempts to defend a lifestyle that corresponds with the Bible's standards are even labeled hate speech (in that such defenses are seen as intolerant of alternate lifestyles). (For an exposé of this new intolerant tolerance, read Albert Mohler's interview with theologian D. A. Carson after the release of Carson's new book The Intolerance of Tolerance.)

To those of us who have grown up at a time and in a place where Christian ideas were mainstream, this is a shock. We're not used to being disliked, ridiculed, made fun of, even hated. But in the grand scheme of history, love of Christianity and Christians is the exception rather than the rule.

What do we do about this? Our gut reaction—my gut reaction—is to pray that things will change, that the climate toward Christians will warm. But that's not what the early Christians did. Look at how they prayed after Peter and John were imprisoned, then hauled before the Jewish rulers and told to shut up or else:

"And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” Acts 4:29-30 NLT

Do we dare pray the same way?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love such boldness in the face of persecution. Help me to have the mindset that isn't cowed by criticism and hatred, but takes courage in who You are and what You can do. Please give me New Testament boldness. Amen.

MORE: D. A. Carson says...
"...I want to argue that people have the right to believe or not to believe, to believe what they want, and yet the secular wants our beliefs to be so privatized that they have nothing to say to the public arena. ...But Christians can’t live that way. ... What Christians cannot allow is to keep their voices silent just because they’re Christians" - D. A. Carson, "Tolerance on Trial: A Conversation with D. A. Carson.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Superabundance

cup with cross and flowers
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 23:1-6

TO CHEW ON:
"My cup runs over." Psalm 23:5

An overflowing cup—what a delightful image. Of course we know that "cup" here doesn't refer to a literal cup filled to overflowing with liquid. Rather, it's a metaphor for one's life or life situation, or a circumstance and the fact that it runs over is a picture of the superabundance of God's provision.

Other places in the Bible also speak of God giving superabundantly:
  • Moses, describing in a prophetic way how God has and will deal with His chosen people, draws word pictures that help us see this: "He made him ride in the height of the earth … He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock" - Deuteronomy 32:13.
  • After enduring a God-permitted test, Job's fortunes were restored double - Job 42:10.
  • The result of repentance, Joel prophesies, will be overflowing harvest - Joel 2:24.
  • Returning to God what is rightfully His (the tithe) opens the "windows of heaven" to "pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it" - Malachi 3:10.
  • Jesus' feeding the crowd that followed Him to a deserted place to be with Him and hear Him speak resulted in twelve baskets of leftovers - Matthew 14:20.
  • Jesus said our generosity will come back to us many times over: "…good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the measure that you use it will be measured back to you" - Luke 6:38.

Several responses come to mind as I ponder these stories and promises of superabundance:

1. When I look at my own life, I see that God has already overflowed it with good things. I need to be more grateful.

2. When I'm in a trial, I can be reassured that it is only for a time. Even it that time lasts till the end of mine on earth, I have an overflowing cup to look forward to in heaven. I need to hang onto hope.

3. Maybe my sense of need tells me I'm not in the right place. When my foolish, wandering sheep personality has taken me away from the fold and the shepherd, I need to repent and return.

4. If I've been hanging onto my possessions, time, even affections with a sense that there won't be enough left if I give too much away, I need to trust God and then let go and be generous, first with God, then with others.

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of a life overflowing with Your blessings. Please help me learn to live in such a generous way that blessing is the obvious consequence. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spirit of change

St. Peter and St. John at the Beautiful Gate - Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.' And he took him by the hand and lifted him up." Acts 3:6,7

When we read about Peter in the New Testament, it's almost as if we're reading about two different people.
The early Peter is:
  • Naturally impulsive - Matthew 14:28.
  • Slow to comprehend spiritual truth - Matthew 15:15,16.
  • Full of contradictions - Matthew 16:16-23.
  • Self-seeking - Matthew 19:27.
  • Cowardly - Matthew 26:69-72.

But what a change after Pentecost. Now he has
  • Wisdom to teach and preach - Acts 2:14; 3:12.
  • Boldness and courage - Acts 4:13,20.
  • Power and anointing for miracles - Acts 3:6,7… and tons of faith. Here he extends his hand to lift up that lame man before there's a whisper of evidence he'll be able to walk. We read in Acts 5:15 how his very presence has healing power. And when Tabitha dies, he raises her from the dead - Acts 9:40.
  • Insight to break down the spiritual barriers between Jews and Gentiles - Acts 10:44.

The change in Peter's life comes about when the Holy Spirit takes over.

A sobering question to ask ourselves is, which list of Peter's characteristics describes us?

The encouraging thing is that the Spirit who changed Peter is available to indwell, possess, and change us too. Another boldly Spirit-filled apostle—Paul—reminds the Christians in Thessalonica:
"For our gospel did not come to you in words only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit…" 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
He reassures Timothy:
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" - 2 Timothy 1:7.
He prays for the Ephesians—a prayer that we can pray over ourselves and others:
"…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man" - Ephesians 3:16.

As I am in prayer about this just now, I sense the Lord reminding me—and us— that the Spirit's empowering in our lives is not to accomplish what the apostles did, but for the work and assignments He gives us: to raise that family, make those boots, manage that strata, work in that bank, pastor that church, write that book…


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to yield myself to Your Spirit that changes, empowers, and makes me more like Jesus n my everyday 21st century life. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Table presence

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 24:28-49

TO CHEW ON: "And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread." Luke 24:35



"Come Lord Jesus, be our guest
May this food to us be blessed.  Amen."

This childhood grace came true in the flesh for two disciples. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus was their traveling companion on the road to Emmaus. At the end of the seven-mile walk, they invited this interesting stranger to stay with them.

It was in the breaking of bread that they recognized Him. What was it that twigged—the lift of His eyes when he gave thanks? The way He tore the bread and dipped it into the sauce? The way He chewed? The fact that these disciples recognized Him during their meal tells us they had shared meals with Him before.

Henri Nouwen talks about the meaning of this incident:

"The table is the place of intimacy. Around the table we discover each other. It's the place where we pray. It's the place where we ask: 'How was your day?' ...


'The table, too, is the place where distance is most painfully felt. It is the place where the children feel the tension between the parents, where brothers and sisters express their anger and jealousies...


'Around the table, we know whether there is friendship and community or hatred and division. ...it is also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed" - Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, pp. 74,75 (paragraphing added to ease online reading).

Mr. Nouwen's musings bring me to the question, is the table in my home a place of blessing or pain? Do I truly expect Jesus to be my guest? Is He present with me, with us, in this most ordinary, mundane, and needful activity of life?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for sharing with us Your life on earth in these ordinary ways (and inspiring Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to record them). Please be with me in my sitting and walking, at the table and doing the dishes, when I work at my computer or read my book. Please join me in all my activities of daily living. Amen.

MORE: Nouwen again...

"Jesus accepts the invitation to come into the home of his traveling companions, and he sits down at table with them. ...Then something new happens. Something scarcely noticeable to an untrained eye. Jesus is the guest of his disciples, but as soon as he enters into their home, he becomes their host! And as their host, he invites them to enter into full communion with him" - Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, p. 77.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Deal with anger

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 4:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still." Psalm 4:4


What makes you angry? People who cut you off in traffic? People who make you wait? Rudeness? Young people? Old people? People who have different beliefs from yours in religion, in social customs, in politics?

There are probably, in each of our lives, dozens of flash points every day—places where we get rubbed against the grain and could easily erupt into anger.

Psalm 4:4 gives us one way to deal with anger [the word used here is ragas which means to tremble, quake, quiver, be agitated, perturbed, disquieted]. It is to meditate [amar: to say, speak, utter, think, command, promise] and be still [damam: be silent, still, struck dumb].

The picture is of someone who is still shaking mad at bedtime. Perhaps it's the psalmist himself. He does seem to be talking to himself here. Instead of lashing out—what he probably feels like doing—he answers his anger, thinks twice, and reasons himself into silence and stillness.

Here are some more places Bible writers speak of dealing with anger. Let's notice the actions words:

"Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm" - Psalm 37:8.

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty
And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" - Proverbs 16:32.

"But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath…" Colossians 3:8.

"But then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" - James 1:19.

Do you see the common thread that runs through all these verses? There's a sense that this is something over which we have control. We can rein ourselves in. We don't have to let anger run away with us and take us to that hot speech, door banging, pot throwing place. Why? As David reminds us, anger only causes harm and God has us and our situation in hand: "…put your trust in the Lord. … For You alone, O LORD make me dwell in safety" - Psalm 4:5,8.

PRAYER: Dear God, please heighten my awareness of things that anger me. Help me to rule my spirit with Your Spirit. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is sin just an opinion?

Truth spelled in Scrabble letters
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 3:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." 1 John 3:4

More and more our society is losing its connection to moral absolutes. Justin P. McBrayer (a Colorado professor of philosophy) writes recently in the Opinionator column of the New York Times: "What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children it is not true to say that it's wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?"

He goes on to describe his visit to his son's Grade 2 classroom where two definitions hung over the bulletin board:

"Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels or believes."

These two definitions, he points out, leave no room for things that are true even if no once can prove them and things that we believe which can also be proven, like historical facts. He found assignments where kids were asked to categorize statements as facts or opinions. When sorting statements such as  "Copying homework assignments is wrong" and "Cursing in school is inappropriate behaviour" the correct answer was that they were opinions. His conclusion:

"In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths" - reported by Dr. Albert Mohler in "The Briefing 03-20-15," original article"Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts").

This, of course, is a far cry from what the Bible teaches. Today's reading from 1 John 3 repeats the word "sin" in various forms ten times. Sin, by its very definition, assumes that moral facts (truths) exist:

[Sin - hamartia: to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to wander from the law of Gd; violate God's law.]

What is sin, according to the Bible?
  • The verse we're focusing on defines sin as lawlessness or rebellion against God's law - 1 John 3:4.
  • Unrestrained talk and foolishness are both called sin - Proverbs 10:19; 24:9.
  • Contempt for others is sin - Proverbs 14:21.
  • Whatever is not done from faith is sin - Romans 14:23.
  • Failing to do something good when we have the ability/opportunity to do it is sin - James 4:17.
  • All unrighteousness is sin - 1 John 5:17.

Though governing our lives by these standards may put us increasingly out of step with a world that insists God's standards are mere opinions, I'd rather find myself in the company that John describes at the beginning of the chapter: "called children of God," "like Him," full of the "hope" of seeing Him. As a result I need to line up my life with His standards of purity (1 John 3:1-3) no matter what others think of them.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me grow in my sensitivity and abhorrence to the things You consider sin and to live for the day I see You. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guards against deception

Reading a letter - Treasures of the Bible (Early Church)
Reading a letter - Treasures of the Bible (Early Church)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you." 1 John 2:26

Though no author name is given, scholars believe the book of 1 John was written John, Jesus' disciple. It was written to the churches around Ephesus where he spent his latter years. One of his main concerns in this letter was to warn about false teachers and error. The specific error that threatened the church at this time was Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was the belief that spirit was good and matter was evil. A corollary of this belief was that a true god would never appear in a body made of evil matter. As a result believers in Gnosticism denied Jesus' incarnation insisting that His body was only apparent. And if He had no real body, the resurrection was also meaningless.

As we read 1 John with that in mind, we can see how from the very beginning, John tries to counteract these false teachings. Referring to Jesus, he begins:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled concerning the Word of Life" - 1 John 1:1 (emphasis added).

In other words, I was with Jesus and He was indeed real!

In our reading today John names two things these early Christians can do to keep from being deceived by heretical teaches:

1. Listen to the teachings of Jesus genuine apostles - 1 John 2:24.
These were people like Jesus' twelve disciples who had been taught directly by Jesus, had seen His miracles, and had heard Him refute the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. They were the ones who were present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on each one, imparting boldness and insight. John confidently says to those he and the other apostles have taught: "Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning" - 1 John 2:24.

2. Open themselves to the anointed teaching and understanding imparted by the Holy Spirit - 1 John 2:27.*

How / When / Why does the Holy Spirit teach us?
  •  His teaching is part of our daily provision. Nehemiah, when explaining Israel's history to Jerusalem's returned exiles juxtaposes the instruction of the Spirit with God supplying daily manna and water - Nehemiah 9:20.
  •  The Spirit will teach us what to say when we're in trouble for our faith in Jesus - Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12.
  •  He will teach and bring to mind "all things" about Jesus - John 14:26.
  •  He will help us as we study the Bible "... comparing spiritual things with spiritual" - 1 Corinthians 2:13,  or as the Amplified translates it: "... combining and interpreting spiritual truth with spiritual language..." 1 Corinthians 2:13 AMP.  In this area, I believe, the Holy Spirit teaches us to spot false doctrines and religious teaching that contradicts the Bible, i.e. avoid deception. 
  •  The Holy Spirit's teaching is heard by those whose ears are tuned to hear Him - Revelation 2:7.

I believe John's two guards against deception—becoming familiar with the teaching of the apostles as it is recorded in God's word and opening ourselves to being taught by the Holy Spirit—are still relevant to us today.

In the God's word department, think about the advantages we have over these early Christians. They had only parts of the apostles' eye witness accounts through personal contact and writing. We have the entire New Testament (in many versions and translations).

In the area of being taught by the Holy Spirit, let's get into the habit of listening for that still small voice that brings daily encouragement (like manna and water), that helps us remember Bible verses and songs, that gives us words to speak in discussions about our faith, that helps us see the connections in God's story, and that alerts us to teaching that is false.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit thank You for the Bible and the Your teaching. Help me to consistently tune my ears to Your voice. Amen.

*About John's statement "… you do not need that anyone teach you…" the writer of my Bible's study notes explains:
"To receive spiritual knowledge under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to know truth in a way that human instruction cannot provide. The text is not an argument against the ministry of teaching (Romans 12;7; Ephesians 4:1) but an emphasis that only the Holy Spirit is able to bring revelation to the human heart (Ephesians 1:17,18)" Peter E. Prosser, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible" p. 1786.


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Growth stages

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:3-17

TO CHEW ON: "I write to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you young men because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you children because you have known the Father." 1 John 2:13

In the middle of some heavy teaching about how important it is to love each other and how when you hate someone you're living in darkness, John interjects this little section that seems to say, "And guess what folks. This is for all of you!"

The parenthesis section of verses 12-14 give us some great little insights into the different stages of the Christian life.

Little children:
Pick up the excitement of the new believer in John's word.
  • It's excitement over sins forgiven: "I write to you little children because your sins are forgiven."
  • It's excitement about a new relationship: "I write to you little children because you have known the Father."
When, in another place, John scolds a church for having left their "first love," I think we can rightly assume he's talking about this stage. It's the stage of having a crush on God/Jesus—only it's much more profound and lasting than human infatuation.

Young men/women:
A sidebar article in my Bible describes this stage:
"But as we feed on the milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2) we see that there is more to salvation than the forgiveness of sins. We grow beyond our infancy into young adult lives of challenge and victory as people who live daily by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)" - Kenneth Ulmer,  in "Growth In Stages," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1785.


Father/mothers:
This is the stage of the long-term settled relationship. These folks are so tight with God, have been through so much with Him that John says, simply, they know Him.

Know (ginosko) means:
1] To learn to know.
2] to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of.
3] Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse.

In other words, it's knowing that encompasses all stages from introduction to the deepest intimacy. The relationship only gets richer, more secure, more satisfying!

I ask, which one of these stages am I in? (Though I'm thinking, there is a little bit of each stage in my relationship with God.) What about you?

Another good question to ask is, are we making progress to new levels of growth?

PRAYER: Dear Father God, thank You for our relationship that lasts a lifetime. Help me, even today, to grow stronger and bigger and more mature in You. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

A bold prayer

The Holy Spirit and the Early Church - Artist unknown
The Holy Spirit and the Early Church - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:23-37

TO CHEW ON: "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31

The early church had just suffered its first setback. After healing the lame man at the temple gate, Peter had preached Jesus to the receptive crowd and many had believed in Him. This greatly bothered the Jewish rulers, who thought that with the crucifixion, they would be done with this Jesus troublemaker.

The Sadducees, priests and temple captain arrested Peter and John, kept them in jail overnight and the next day brought them before the Sanhedrin. There the rulers, elders, and scribes, along with the High Priest, grilled Peter and John, commanded them to stop teaching in Jesus' name or else, and let them go.

They returned to their friends and reported what happened. However, the reaction of the early church is probably not what we would expect. Let's listen to their voices raised in prayer to learn how a Spirit-filled church prays in the face of opposition:

1. They begin with praise—focusing on God's greatness - Acts 4:24.

2. They remind themselves, and God, of His word and promises by quoting scripture - Acts 4:25,26.

3. They speak their agreement with God's will and His sovereign purposes: "… to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" - Acts 4:27-28.

4. They request, not that the persecution will stop or that the persecutors will be silenced (like I would) but that they will face these threats with boldness.

5. They pray for more healings, signs, and wonders to prove Jesus' power and reality.

The result of their prayer: "… the place where they were assembled was shaken  (literally, I wonder, in an earthquake-type event?) and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

[Boldness - parrhesia  "Outspokenness, unusual utterance, freedom of speech, with frankness, candour, cheerful courage, and the opposite of cowardice, timidity or fear. Here it denotes a divine enablement that comes to ordinary and unprofessional people exhibiting spiritual power and authority … Parrhesia is not a human quality but a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1497.]

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I need this boldness not only when I face opposition, but for everyday life. Please fill me with Your Spirit in this way. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Holy Boldness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:1-22

The Boldness of Peter and John - Artist unknown
TO CHEW ON: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized they had been with Jesus." - Acts 4:13

What a contrast these men are to the picture of the disciples huddled behind closed doors "… for fear of the Jews" that John describes from a few weeks earlier (John 20:19). Their boldness is evident all over the place in our reading:
  • They teach this new thing—that in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead—without qualification or apology - Acts 4:2.
  • When arrested Peter answers boldly, "filled with the Holy Spirit" - Acts 4:8.
  • The rulers put the pieces together: the disciples' uncharacteristic boldness + their uneducated state = amazing. But then an "aha" moment. Doesn't this remind them of someone? "They realized they had been with Jesus"—whose teaching was also characterized by boldness (Matthew 7:29).  
  • Even the rulers' threats and ultimatums have no effect - Acts 4:19,20.

A brief look at others who show holy boldness in the Bible helps us learn more about such God-given confidence:
  • It comes as a result of following convictions and leaving the fallout in God's hands, as Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego discover - Daniel 3:16.
  • It comes to Joseph of Arimathea when the situation is desperate and unless someone steps up, this friend and teacher will have no respectful burial at all - Mark 15:43.
  • The Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit on all believers is a watershed moment in the story of holy boldness - Acts 2:1-42.
  • The disciples get a new dose as a result of prayer - Acts 4:31.
  • It makes new believer Paul careless about his very life and well-being - Acts 9:29.
  • Later, in Ephesus,  it causes him to minister boldly, persuasively and persistently. When opposition to his meetings arises, he doesn't quit but moves them from the synagogue to a lecture hall and continues to preach his controversial message for two more years - Acts 19:8-10.
  • When he is in Rome, he keeps witnessing about and explaining the gospel despite his  chains (Acts 28:20,31).
  • Paul says that one of the wellsprings of his boldness is the realization that the message of the gospel isn't his project and spreading it isn't from his own initiative but it is a message that God Himself has entrusted to him - 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4.

Are you happy with your boldness quotient? I know I'm not happy with mine. These Bible examples of holy boldness give us much to consider and pray about as we go before God to seek His insights on why there is so much timidity in our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know I need more holy boldness. Please help me understand the roots of my timidity and deal with them. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Believe

Doubting Thomas - Artist unknown
Doubting Thomas - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.’” John 20:27


Skeptics - we all have them in our lives. These are people whose response to our incredible good news is a sarcastic, “Yeah, right.” People whose questioning attitude leads us more gullible types to parts of the issue we hadn’t thought of or cared to face: “Are you sure they’re legit? So how much time is this going to take? And they’re going to pay you what?”

I can just see Thomas after hearing the account of the Emmaus disciples, his voice high with incredulity, “And you believed it was Jesus just because of the way He looked when He prayed?” Here he responds to the report of a Jesus sighting with “Unless I see the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side and touch them, I will not believe.”

Belief is an interesting thing, in that built into its very definition is faith.
1. To accept something as true or real.
2. To credit with veracity.
3. To accept the truth, existence, worth etc. of something.
4. To have confidence or place one’s trust in something.

Thomas wanted a very tiny leap of faith. He wanted very little space between what his senses assured him was true and his belief system. Jesus complied and appeared to the disciples when Thomas was there. He invited Thomas to assure himself of His identity with his own eyes and hands. In His invitation, Jesus also chided him, 'Do not be unbelieving, but believing.'It’s as if He was saying, “Even with this proof you will need some measure of faith. It is your choice to believe.”

All of us, whether people of religious faith or not base our lives on beliefs. All of us have to some extent insisted on a measure of touching and seeing before we accept something as true. If we have chosen to believe the God of the Bible, whether we’ve seen Him at work close range or second-hand, the challenge to us remains'Do not be unbelieving, but believing.' It’s a matter of informed and deliberate choice. In what or whom have you chosen to believe?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I believe in You – in Your word, the Bible, in Your death and resurrection for me, and the hope of a future with You. Amen.

MORE: Charles Price in his television program “Living Truth” gave a 45-minute lecture on Thomas and doubt based on this very incident. The You-Tube below is a teaser for that talk. Below that are instructions on how to get the entire talk as a transcript.

Struggling With Doubt That Leads To Life In Jesus Christ - Charles Price Truth Bytes



Download a transcript of Charles' Price's entire message on doubting Thomas HERE (pdf file).

The Living Truth website also offers the possibility of selecting weekly telecasts to watch online HERE.


Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Recognizing Jesus

Mary Magdalene Sees Jesus Risen
- Artist unknown
From Treasures of the Bible

Mary Magdalene Sees Jesus Risen - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Now when she had said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know it was Jesus." John 20:14

I have always been puzzled by Mary's failure to recognize Jesus. Didn't she know Him well? Hadn't she observed Him at close quarters as one of the women who served His itinerant ministry? Why this failure to recognize him?

The IVP New Testament Commentary says of her uncomprehending reaction:

"Such can be the blinding effect of profound emotions. In this case, her inability to recognize him also seems to be due to the character of Jesus' resurrection body, since such failure is typical of encounters with him (cf. Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:12; Luke 24:16, 37; John 21:4)" - IVP Commentary of the New Testament accessed through "Study This" on Biblegateway.com.

This is by no means the only time Jesus wasn't recognized, though. A failure to recognize who He really was in His person and work was a common reaction to Him while He was on earth.
  • Isaiah predicted this blindness - Isaiah 53:3.
  • Though the disciples were guilty of this same reaction for much of the time Jesus was with them (John 14:9), they eventually got it. Look at what John says in His gospel, written some 50 years after Jesus' death and resurrection: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him and the world did not know Him" - John 1:10.
  • The Jewish leaders of Jesus' time who looked on Him as their rival clung tenacious to their unawareness - John 9:1-34.
  • Jesus predicted that bad things would happen to His followers because people in authority didn't and wouldn't recognize Him and His Father - John 16:1-4.

The above could and does impact Christians in the world today. So do two other things about recognizing Jesus:
  • People can see that we have seen and know Him by the bent of our lives. In his letter to early Christians, John says:
"Whoever abides in Him does not sin.* Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him" - 1 John 3:6 (emphasis added).
"No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him" - 1 John 3:6 NIV.
  • Jesus may come to us even now in many ways through the needs of our fellowmen (Matthew 25:34-40). Do we recognize Him here?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes to see You in the needy people all around me. Soften my heart to respond as surely as I would if it were You in person. Amen.

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* "…does not sin…"  or "no one who lives in him keeps on sinning…" does not mean that the person who is in Christ never sins. The IVP Commentary is helpful here: "What is meant, then, by the statement no one who lives in him keeps on sinning is quite simple: sin is not the identifying characteristic of those who live in him." (Emphasis added.)


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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